When fall starts creeping in, there's no doubt that we begin the winterizing process around our homes. Clean the gutters? Check. Block all of the leaks? On it. Furnace in working order? Yep. But have you taken a look at how to prep your lawn for the cold months ahead?
"Winterizing your lawn should be a part of a well-thought-out care plan for your lawn," says Patti O'Neal, a horticulturist at the Colorado State University Extension in Jefferson County. "If you have not thought of your lawn that way, preparing for winter is as good a time as any to start, and fall is the time to do so."
O'Neal says there are three specific steps that homeowners should take when winterizing their lawn during the late fall season. Fertilization, aeration and watering all combine to give you a great lawn in the springtime.
Depending on the turf species, climate and soil type, the fall is a perfect time to fertilize your lawn if you only do it once a year. O'Neal suggests using a slow-release nitrogen product; this fertilizer will work throughout the winter, helping your lawn to come up green and healthy in the spring. According to the Michigan State University Extension office, turf needs three different nutrients: potassium, nitrogen and phosphorus. Again, the type and texture of your turf will dictate which of these three nutrients your turf needs more of. Taking a soil sample and talking with your extension office or land-grant university can help you determine how much of each nutrient is best.
Aeration is one of the most important things you can do to help your turf survive, says O'Neal. "Aerating the lawn properly will help to improve the root zone of your turf by alleviating compaction, controlling thatch accumulation, which improves water retention and the overall health of the lawn," she says.
Thatch is a loose organic layer of dead and living stems, roots and other material that develops between the green vegetation and the soil surface. Thatch that grows too thick can cut off the water supply to the turf, among other detrimental effects. Aeration helps to loosen the thatch.
Aeration holes should be no more than 2 inches apart and should go both north to south and east to west in order to achieve best results. Though some people might want to pick up the soil cores left over from aeration, O'Neal suggests leaving them, as they help to decompose the thatch.
Once you have fertilized and aerated, you are almost done preparing your lawn for the winter season. Depending on when -- if at all -- your turf goes dormant, watering your lawn during this time may come into play in how well it comes up the next year. O'Neal says the general rule is to water more deeply and less frequently. If you have a section of your lawn that is prone to drying out quickly (see: south-facing or sloped areas), you may need to supplement by hand-watering those areas. This regimen will help to prevent mite damage. These pests tend to feed on dry grass and, depending on your locale, may be more prevalent in the cooler months.
Lastly, O'Neal says the wintertime is a perfect time to check all of your lawn care equipment that got heavy use during the summer. Tune up your mower by changing the oil, cleaning or replacing the air filter, and sharpening the blades. If your blades are dull, they shred the turf; think of it like creating a wound on each leaf of grass. These open wounds invite disease, so sharpening your mower blades at least once a year is a good idea.